Chris Cheary could face death penalty in baby Sophia's murder

FRESNO, Calif.

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Cheary could ultimately face the death penalty. That's something many family and friends of Sophia Acosta say would justify the crimes he's accused of.

More than 60 people prayed for three year old Sophia Acosta at a candlelight vigil in Exeter Friday night. The news of Chris Cheary's arrest brought them here in hopes of finding some closure. But Sophia's father Obie Acosta remained inconsolable.

"Nothing that I can say, nothing that I can do can bring her back. I can't see the good in that." said Acosta.

Exeter Police officers arrested Cheary in Stanislaus County Thursday night. Detectives questioned the 20 year old for hours and in video you'll only see on Action News, officers transported Cheary to the Tulare County Jail Friday morning.

A criminal complaint by Exeter Police claims Sophia Acosta endured physical and sexual abuse in the last days of her life. There are also special allegations by investigators saying Cheary tortured Sophia repeatedly which resulted in her injuries. If Chris Cheary is convicted on any of these special allegations he could get the death penalty.

"I've seen him spank them way too hard and like play with them rough."

Carly Vega says she spent a lot of time babysitting Sophia and her little sister Alexa.

Vega claims to have witnessed some of Cheary's abusive behavior toward Sophia as recently as a month before her tragic death.

"I just still can't believe she's gone. I wasn't surprised though. And I knew it was him. I just couldn't believe she let it happen." Said Vega.

Vega is referring to Erika Smith who is Sophia's mother and Cheary's girlfriend. Smith remains a person of interest in this case but many family members and those in the community believe she shares the blame in Sophia's murder.

"I believe she was also involved. She ran away with Chris Cheary. So I believe she was involved throughout the whole thing." said Nick Arredondo of Exeter.

Cheary's arraignment will take place in Visalia on Monday. Sophia's great grandmother Ruth Williams attended the vigil but became too emotional to talk on camera.

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Cheary was arrested Thursday in Stansilaus County. He's accused of killing Sophia Acosta of Exeter last month.

The criminal complaint against Christopher Cheary reveals he is facing four felony counts including murder and sexual assault. Some of the charges carry special allegations that mean he could face the death penalty if he's convicted.

The district attorney's office has also filed a charge of murder with a special allegation that Cheary tortured Sophia Acosta. Investigators say the "torture" allegation refers to the number of injuries the three-year-old sustained.

On May 7th police were called to this apartment where Sophia Acosta lived with her mother and Chris Cheary, her mother's boyfriend. Investigators thanked the public for being patient as they worked on their case these last four weeks.

"Nobody would want to wish that on anybody's child so not only does it make us work harder on the case, it has -- we get their support because they see that it needs to be um taken care of for the child," Det. Daniel Green. "There needs to be justice for that child."

Sgt. Celis Rabena said, "Since this happened I think I'm around 250 hours investigating this case."

Sophia's mother, Erika Smith has not been arrested, but is still considered a person of interest in the murder case. Action News reached out to her but we are told she is too upset to talk.

Investigators say they have accumulated a lot of evidence, including DNA and blood samples. Chris Cheary will be arraigned on the Monday afternoon.

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Word of Cheary's arrest has spread very quickly in Exeter. People have started to arrive for Friday night's vigil. Organizers tell me they want to celebrate Cheary's arrest and keep Sophia's memory alive. Meanwhile, Sophia's father says while the arrest is a good thing, it does not help the healing process.

"I got too much hate in my heart," said Obie. "I've got too much against him right now, so I can't really say anything about him."

Obie Acosta says he always knew Chris Cheary was responsible for his daughter's murder. But, he didn't find out police arrested him, until he saw it on the news.

"I was shocked, but then again, I was I don't know," said Obie. "I'm not gonna use relieved but, no one is ever going to be at peace with it."

Obie says he hardly knew Cheary, and that the one time they spoke turned into an argument over the phone. While he's relieved Cheary is in police custody, Obie is also angry at child protective services. He claims, police had been called out to the apartment, where Sophia lived before, and that no one including CPS contacted him about previous abuse allegations.

Obie said, "So, I don't know. In a way, it could have been probably taken care of before my daughter had to pass away."

To date CPS has only issued one statement saying no one from the agency could comment because the case is under investigation.

Obie now wears pink bracelet in memory of his little girl, Sophia. And while he'll continue to live each day mourning her loss, his focus now is moving forward. He's trying to get custody of his youngest daughter, Sophia's little sister, who, after three weeks, is still being cared for by Child Protective Services.

"The only thing I want is for everything to go smooth now," said Obie. "I just want to be with my daughter. Do everything I can."

Obie says he has not spoken to Sophia's mother, Erika Smith since Cheary's arrest.

As for Friday night's vigil, Obie says he does not plan to attend.

Stay with Action News for the very latest developments in this case.

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Christopher Rey Cheary will be arraigned Monday, June 6 at 1:30pm at the Pretrial.

Count 1- Murder
Special allegations:

1-Murder committed while engaging in the commission of the crime of sodomy

2-Murder committed while engaging in the commission of the crime of Performance of a lewd act on a child under the age of 14

3-Murder was intentional and "involved the infliction of torture"

Count 2-Felony Assault On A Child Causing Death

Count 3- Sodomy on a child under 14 years OLF
Special allegations:

1-"Defendant inflicted aggravated mayhem or torture on the victim"

2-"Defendant inflicted great bodily injury"

3-"Defendant personally inflicted bodily harm on the victim who was under 14 years of age"

Count 4-Felony sodomy
Special allegations:

1-"Defendant inflicted aggravated mayhem or torture on the victim"

2-"Defendant inflicted great bodily injury"

3-"Defendant personally inflicted bodily harm on the victim who was under 14 years of age"

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